For most buildings, there comes a time when they are seen as no longer valuable to the community that built them. The standard is to demolish these buildings, knocking them down where they stand and transporting all the resources within them to the nearest landfill. What was once a fully functioning building is now a pile of waste.

Let us introduce you to Dean Romeril. Dean has been working for the City of Lethbridge in the Facility Services department for over 15 years. He is the Property Manager, responsible for taking down buildings that are outdated and are no longer needed.  Environment Lethbridge initially reached out to Romeril to discuss the 2019 YMCA Deconstruction that received press coverage for its environmental initiatives. While chatting with him, a whole realm was unveiled that extended well beyond the YMCA project: the realm of ‘environmental deconstruction’.

The year was 2006 and Romeril’s team took on their largest demolition project yet - the old Bridge Inn Hotel. Before starting the demolition, they assessed the building and the materials contained within it. From sandstone to brick, they recognized the value contained within the structure and the unnecessary waste they would be creating if they sent it all to the landfill. The team discussed it with their stakeholders and potential partners, and decided taking an environmental deconstruction approach was worth a shot. Before deconstruction began, they called in a consultant from Alberta Waste and Recycling to help guide them through the process. 

Demolition is often the standard approach to taking down a building, with the sole focus being knocking it down as quickly as possible. With environmental deconstruction, the first step was for Romeril and his team to assess the building and what it contained. Then, with the help of their consultant from Alberta Waste and Recycling, they made a plan to divert as much as possible from the landfill. The Bridge Inn Hotel was then taken apart piece by piece. The materials that were salvaged were repurposed and become inputs for new projects in revitalizing the downtown core. 

Romeril and his team have become shining examples across the province for environmental deconstruction. With the help of their consultant from Alberta Waste and Recycling, they have consistently diverted over 90% of project material from the landfill. They have given presentations at waste-related conferences and shared advice over the phone with other municipalities across the country. They have become leaders in the field, inspiring others to develop systems of their own.

While this approach requires more time, the benefits to the community make it worth it. For starters, the contractors who take on a project are granted salvage rights to the building. This allows them to sell off whatever is inside, a great incentive to save as much as possible and an added cash bonus for the workers. Yas, the project takes longer, but that means people are employed longer. Not to mention, a lot of resources are kept out of the landfill and given a second life. The companies who buy the product get access to materials to fuel their own projects. Romeril also noted the folks at the Solid Waste Department are happy about the initiative because it means the landfills don’t reach capacity as quickly, ultimately saving the City money and reducing waste.

The 2019 YMCA deconstruction was only the latest in the series of projects. 15 years have passed since these initiatives first began, and 6 major projects have been completed, Romeril and his team have got it down to a routine. The Bridge Inn Hotel, their first environmental deconstruction project, had a 55.4% diversion rate (calculated based on weight). Since then, the team has consistently achieved an over 90% diversion rate on all subsequent projects. Wow! 

Looking to the future, Romeril explained environmental deconstruction is now the department standard. No matter the size of the project, the team will always conduct an initial assessment to determine what percentage can be diverted from the landfill. As they take on new projects, they will continue to be leaders in creating a less wasteful community right here in Lethbridge.

Written by Kaitlyn Philip. 
YMCA Before
The YMCA before deconstruction began.
YMCA During
During deconstruction.

YMCA AfterThe land after deconstruction was completed.